AstraZeneca Invests $140M in Cellectis, Secures 44% Stake in CAR-T Specialist

AstraZeneca's San Francisco Office

Pictured: AstraZeneca's office in South San Francisco, California/iStock, hapabapa

AstraZeneca closed its $140 million investment in Cellectis Monday, giving the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker a 44% stake in the French gene-editing company which leverages an allogeneic approach for CAR-T immunotherapies in oncology.

Cellectis struck a deal with AstraZeneca in November 2023, which was worth an initial $105 million, consisting of an $80 million equity investment and $25 million upfront payment. The biotech also proposed selling another $140 million equity stake to AstraZeneca but needed to talk to employee representatives and receive the support of shareholders and the French government to finalize the agreement.

On Monday, Cellectis said it had received clearance from the French Ministry of Economy. The authorization was the last of the closing conditions and resulted in AstraZeneca completing its $140 million investment.

The back-to-back investments have made AstraZeneca a major Cellectis shareholder. AstraZeneca now owns around 44% of the share capital and 30% of the voting rights. The stake has given AstraZeneca two seats on Cellectis’ board. Tyrell Rivers, executive director of corporate development at AstraZeneca, and Marc Dunoyer, CEO of the company’s Alexion unit, joined Cellectis’ board when the investment closed.

Rivers and Dunoyer will sit on Cellectis’ board as the biotech works to deliver on the deal. The agreement reserved 25 genetic targets for AstraZeneca. Cellectis could develop up to 10 candidates.

Talking on an earnings call in February 2024, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot framed the Cellectis pact as part of a series of deals that includes agreements with Neogene Therapeutics, Quell Therapeutics and Gracell Biotechnologies. Through the deals, AstraZeneca has established capabilities to expand its cell therapy program into solid tumors, off-the-shelf candidates and immune diseases.

AstraZeneca’s support has strengthened Cellectis’ financial position. Cellectis ended September 2023 with $67.4 million in cash and cash equivalents. The biotech forecast the cash, plus the initial $105 million from AstraZeneca and a 15 million euro ($16 million) loan, would support operations for at least the next 12 months. Cellectis said the additional $140 million AstraZeneca investment will keep it going into 2026.

The extended cash runway gives Cellectis more time to generate data on its clinical candidates. Cellectis has three wholly owned CAR-T candidates in clinical development in blood cancers and expects to share data updates on each asset this year. The biotech is aiming to establish the recommended Phase II dose for CAR-T cell therapies directed at CD22 and CD20xCD22 and share two-dose data on its CD123 asset.

Cellectis developed the CAR-T cell therapies using its Talen gene-editing platform. Scientists have used the platform to make off-the-shelf cell therapies that could eliminate the logistical complexity inherent in autologous treatments. Pfizer licensed assets based on the technology before passing them to Allogene Therapeutics, a biotech set up by executives who led Kite Pharma to a takeover by Gilead Sciences.

Nick Paul Taylor is a freelance pharmaceutical and biotech writer based in London. He can be reached on LinkedIn.

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